Monday, September 05, 2005

Nawlins: A Twisted Fate

The article below reflects the aspect of human nature that is so maddening to me, and one reason why I tend toward being religious. It describes the allure of New Orleans to so many people, with that allure so clearly vested in corruption, decadence, filth, and the vilest aspects of human nature. This City reflects a seductively self-destructive human tendency- our love of "culture" on the fringes of accepted human decency.

Note: Words in [brackets] are my editorial comments.

Profile of New Orleans, Before Katrina
By MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer Sat Sep 3, 2:31 PM ET

Beneath the frantic and putrid abyss of looters and bodies and desperation that New Orleans became last week, there's a decadent city of crawfish bisque and sparkling jazz, a ferocious city that beat back the British army, a tenacious city that has survived plague and fires, a seductive and sultry and sweet place beloved by many.

It is, quite simply, one of a kind. [Shouldn't we be grateful?]

"In terms of the big cities of this country, New Orleans is clearly one of the cities with the most unique character," said Paul Farmer, executive of the American Planning Association. "What's happened goes well beyond the devastation of one city — it's a national tragedy."

[The aspect of this event that comes closest to a "national tragedy" is the exposure of decades of decadence manifesting itself in miserable human judgment and behavior. I do not believe for a moment that the loss of the "culture" of New Orleans is a national tragedy. There is obviously a point when "cultural diversity" can go too far and becomes destructive to human survival, if in fact survival is a universal good.]

Its singular ways date back to its French and Spanish history, its Caribbean character, its geographic diversity of lake and marshlands.

The city was born in 1718, a swampy French-Canadian outpost next to the mouth of the Mississippi River. In the ensuing years it would be held by both France and Spain before becoming the largest and richest city in the Confederacy, thanks in large part to its bustling international port.

But its location also made it vulnerable to attackers on sea. In the brutal 1815 Battle of New Orleans, French and Spanish settlers joined soldiers, slaves, militia, Indians and even some pirates as they sheltered behind stacks of logs and cotton bales to defeat British invaders.

Soldiers weren't the only threats. A plague of yellow fever, spread by mosquitoes, struck summer after summer in the mid-1800s, killing thousands of residents. Fires have all but leveled the city as well, and there have been deadly hurricanes and floods, although none on the scale of this week's disaster.

Despite it all, New Orleans has always been a city that entices [just like aberrant sex and addictive drugs entice], and those who come often stay [I guess they needed the drugs!] It has more native-born residents than any other major American city, and it's not uncommon to meet families who have been there for five generations — along with their neighbors.

Those who come for short durations — and there are more than 10 million visitors a year, and 3,000 business meetings and conventions — come to experience an exotic place that has been called America's only European city [go figure].

There's the pre-Lent revel of Mardi Gras [too bad a Christian tradition (Lent) is associated with debauchery (Mardi Gras)], which generates a billion dollars in revenue every year [decadence for dollars!!]. There's the naughty fun of Bourbon Street [naughty is nice - "call evil good and good evil"]. And fine restaurants. And magnificent jazz — at the annual Jazz Fest, at jumping joints, even after funerals. [Ya don't need the crap to have fine restaurants and good music.]

In fact, much that New Orleans flavor has been exported. Mardi Gras parties are ubiquitous now; dishes like gumbos and po'boys and jambalaya are featured in restaurants everywhere. And the music — from Louis Armstrong to B.B. King, from Fats Domino to the Neville Brothers — is the soundtrack for our lives.

But beyond the historic architecture, the spice-laden cuisine and the beguiling voodoo underground, live close to 500,000 people, mostly poor (more than a quarter live in poverty), mostly black (more than 66 percent), clustered into 73 distinct neighborhoods.
Crime, even before the hurricane, was high. The murder rate has come down in recent years, but remains 10 times the national average. Last year, researchers had police fire 700 blank rounds in a city neighborhood one afternoon. No one called to report the gunfire. [Can you figure out the reason?]

"Maybe New Orleans should be nicknamed The Big Un-Easy, due to a high violent crime rate and a high unemployment rate. There's also a significant number of suicides and divorces," said Bert Sterling on his Best Places web site.

The city's school system is a shambles. The district almost went broke this past year — teachers nearly missed a paycheck — and 55 of the state's 78 worst schools are in New Orleans.

Dozens of school employees are under indictment for corruption. But then, corruption in New Orleans is nothing new — politicians, judges, the police have all been caught.

[Now we're beginning to see the consequences of a beloved culture gone awry!]

Still, New Orleans did not lose its luster. It had higher education (Tulane, University of New Orleans, Xavier). [In spite of all the crud. Think how great the City might otherwise have been!] It had the port that made it a city in the first place (fourth largest in the world, by gross tonnage).
[The port is a quality of its economic geography, not its culture. It is an independent strength, in spite of the failures of the greater local society. Does a port need corruption to be great, or does corruption stifle greatness? How much better would it have been if the ignored qualities of honesty, integrity, fair dealing, and a community-building spirit were predominant?]

And it still had that quality that inspired its unofficial motto — "Laissez les bons temps rouler" (Let the good times roll). [Leave it to the French]. Though it's too tough to remember now. [Not really. Maybe it is for those who are internally confused about principle and what is good and right.]

Pableaux Johnson, a food and travel writer from New Orleans, could only reminisce about his beloved city in the past tense as he watched the destruction on television with family and friends in a nearby city where they had evacuated. [Yeah, like there goes my livelihood. All the hookers said the same thing.]

"It was a human-scale metropolis," he said. "It had its own really vibrant set of cultures, of food and music and literature and people. It had an amazingly rich tradition and it had a good solid funkiness. [A good, solid funkiness? - This is like having a good, solid nose bleed. "Funky": The word the deceived really get off on. Label any form of deviancy "funky" and you have a great dollar-generating tourist attraction.]

You could get absolutely spiritual food for three bucks, listen to absolutely amazing music in the equivalent of house parties." [Nothing wrong here. But why does it take a society and culture of deviancy, lawlessness, and corruption to enable these things? I don't think those are essential ingredients. Or do the really "artsy" among us require that culture to thrive? Do we really have a human tendency of "artsing ourselves into oblivion" as the Big Easy culture tended to do, requiring the "artsy-poor" in the nation to come to their rescue?]

Joe Lastie, a drummer with the legendary New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, holed up in an Atlanta hotel with his family, somberly waiting to hear from clarinetist Ralph Johnson, pianist Rickie Monie and trumpeter John Brunious.

Lastie's band, named after the venerable music venue in the heart of the French Quarter, is known for its spirited shows around the world where Lastie and his bandmates, blowing their horns and clashing their cymbals, dance right off the stage and into the audience to lead a rollicking, joyful march around the theater.
"I go around the world sharing the joy that is New Orleans," he said. "And because of that joy, I know my city is going to survive. The New Orleans people are the type of people, well, you can't keep them down. Through the joy of the music and the spirit of the people, we're always going to bounce back."
[I hope that aspect survives while they clean up their act.]


justincharlesharlan said...

hey again, still reading your blog.

i think it's sad to see both what new orleans was (the corruption, poverty, etc) and what it is (almost non-existent), but i think it needs to be pointed out that this is not some example of sodom and gommorah like good ole pat and his 700 club buddies would think.

i think, based on your posts, that you have a good grasp on that. but it needed to be pointed out.

christ's love always.

Gerardo Moochie said...

Yeah, I think it was good ol' fashioned personal and governmental irresponsibility, self-absorption, and poor planning (aggravated by bad politics). All of this is sin. I'm a planner, so I know. But it is not so different from Sodom and Gomorrah - I'm quite sure there was a lot of social irresponsibility, self-absorption, and failure to heed "the signs" during that period, too. What is sin except devoting ourselves to the wrong priorities.

I understand the national media narrowly focused on the depravity and social irresponsibility side of the post Katrina tragedy, from reading posts from folks who live in New Orleans. People up and down the Gulf Coast, the great majority as upright as anyone we know - underwent extreme hardship and loss, too - and many continue to do so. If the storm hit Destin, just 5 degrees to the east, my house and job would have been gone. We have next year to look forward to :-(